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Twilight decanted into the softly lit dining space of Above Par through the diversity of wine bottles lining the glass paneled walls of Sydney CBD's newest Middle Eastern restaurant. The wine collection gleamed in a myriad of colors in the evening glow, giving the pastel hued smart interior a kaleidoscopic look. The Friday crowd had not yet pervaded the ambience as we took a corner table and soaked in the pleasant melody hanging in the air. The DJ was playing a beautiful composition of classical and contemporary Arabic lounge mix.
Considering the evolving taste of the masses and the rapid hybridisation of global cuisines, Above Par's menu is true to the spirit of Turkish street food with a healthy contemporary twist. The breakfast menu is a robust Turkish styled amalgamation of proteins and fibres. And the lunch and dinner options are laced with popular Middle Eastern dips, breads, and delicately marinated, slow-cooked meats.
Aligning with the summer mood, we started with freshly squeezed juices, though their collection of spirits and cocktails was really enticing. In fact, the juice and hot beverage options are completely sidelined in the menu by the tasteful potpourri of beer, wine, vodka, brandy. The list goes on and on.
Puffy Bread with Hummus (image copyright of writer)
The Friday crowd had already started trickling in as we sat sipping on our iced juices and enjoying the increase in the tempo of the music. The tangy tartness of the Orange juice and the sweet watermelon, strawberry, apple and lime Tropical mix set our palate for a spice-laden dinner.
I was especially looking forward to the Puffy bread, which was the crown jewel of the dinner menu and going by the social media pictures, was a hot favourite too. Our dip to go with the bread was hummus. Flavored with the richness of roasted sesame seeds, a generous drizzle of olive oil, a hint of garlic, the hummus was unquestionably one of the most refined versions that I have had anywhere else. And the puffed bread had been baked to airy perfection. If the Indian naan bread had a voluminous, inflated, buttered sibling with an open-handed sprinkle of caraway seeds, then this was it. The marriage of that bread and the dip was heavenly.
Upon high recommendations from our polite waitress, we had ordered their Roasted cauliflower to go as a side with the bread. Given the serving size of the dish, it could have easily passed for main course rather than side. Rendered light by baking and sweetened mildly by raisin puree and almond slices, the cauli-florets were perched on a thick hummus spiced up with za'atar and chili oil. It was a clever Mediterranean take on an otherwise regular veggie bake. While we waited for our main course of slow-cooked Flamed köfte and the Chicken shish, the florets proved to be good munchies.
As if to answer my longing for more bread, the Flamed köftes were served on toasted pita with tzatziki and sumac onions on the side. Flame in the name, but instead of over charring, the lamb meat koftas had been cooked to juicy tenderness. Not a hint of leathery over cooking there. And keeping the heat of the spicy meatballs as well as the tangy richness of the sumac in check was the smooth cacik (tzatziki sauce). Hot & cold, crunchy as well as spongy, this lamb dish was an incentive for all senses.
On the other hand, the Chicken shish was yoghurt and spice marinated chicken cubes grilled along with capsicum. It was more of a rustic dish, flamboyant with spices. The sumac onions enhanced the richness of the skewered protein which was mellowed down slightly by the nuttiness of the bulgur pilaf. A pinch more of salt and the dish would have propelled to the next level but the lack of it didn't plummet it that low. The notes had been hit right with the spice mix.
A toast to Head Chef Enver Katranci and thanks to the founders, Efe Topuzlu and Ozgur Sefkatli, for making the mundane into something marvelous. Spicing them with love, marinating with the right amount of attitude and tempering with condiments of tradition, the team has turned regular street food recipes into delicacies above par.